Monthly Archives: December 2013

Is Texting Killing the English Language?

It’s a complex issue. Texting, in itself, isn’t a good or bad thing. In this short article and in his TED talk John McWhorter talks about why texting isn’t destroying writing or the English language. I tend to agree. However, there *are* other problems associated with it, in my opinion, having less to do with linguistics and more to do with cognitive control, and not so much about texting per se as the constant presence of smartphones in our lives.


Texting has long been bemoaned as the downfall of the written word, “penmanship for illiterates,” as one critic called it. To which the proper response is LOL. Texting properly isn’t writing at all — it’s actually more akin to spoken language. And it’s a “spoken” language that is getting richer and more complex by the year.

First, some historical perspective. Writing was only invented 5,500 years ago, whereas language probably traces back at least 80,000 years. Thus talking came first; writing is just an artifice that came along later. As such, the first writing was based on the way people talk, with short sentences — think of the Old Testament. However, while talk is largely subconscious and rapid, writing is deliberate and slow. Over time, writers took advantage of this and started crafting tapeworm sentences such as this one, from The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: “The whole…

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Forget Delayed Gratification: What Kids Really Need Is Cognitive Control

Excellent (and, for me, vindicating) article about just how important cognitive control and the ability to focus is, a skill that I believe is rapidly being lost in today’s hyper-distracted environments.


By now, we’ve all heard about the famous marshmallow test, in which 4-year-olds are told they can either have the juicy one in front of them now, or two later. The 40-year-old experiment, which has been replicated using a variety of enticements, purports to prove that children who can delay gratification will meet with the most success in life. But fighting off impulses is just one part of a much broader and more predictive mental skill, one that scientists call cognitive control or the ability to manage your attention.

Cognitive control plays a central role in mental skills ranging from plain concentration and focus (on your homework, not that text from your BFF) to calming down after you get upset (say, when you finally read that text). A study published in 2011 tracked 1,000 children in New Zealand after rigorously testing them in elementary school for cognitive control. By their…

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